“Ooooh, you are ambidextrous! You are so lucky!”
Well as it turns out, there are positives and negatives with having ambidextrous orientation. As with any fairly atypical human phenotype, there is likely a gradient or scale of this type of ability. Left handed people represent roughly 10% of the population, and ambidextrous people are actually a full order of magnitude more rare than that even at just 1/100. For all of the advantages of being able to use both a left and right hand equally, this orientation does come with some drawbacks and challenges when it comes to development.
Ben Simmons, depending on the account, is either left handed or ambidextrous. And while that may at first seem like a trivial distinction, it actually may be quite significant to understanding his expected timeline for developing some of the finer motor skills such as shooting and touch around the rim.
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The left hemisphere, for example, is typically responsible for language processing, whereas the right hemisphere often handles nonverbal activities. These asymmetries probably evolved to allow the two sides of the brain to specialize. To attempt to undo or tamper with this efficient setup may invite psychological problems. – Rachel Fallon
Some of the issues cited as challenges for ambidextrous people are delays that seem related to the “jack of all trades” aspect of not being specialized from an early age. When you think of someone who is equally able to use both hands or feet for tasks, sports are an obvious area of benefit. For soccer players and baseball players specifically, these are almost necessary traits to some degree. Basketball players, as well, to reach the heights of their profession, need to be able to dribble, drive, and finish with both a right and left hand.
But viewed through another lens, think about the micro decisions that a truly ambidextrous person needs to make that a left or right handed person does not have to even consider. A dominant hand or eye will make the split second choices easier, and it also allows for an athlete, as they develop, to focus on developing the finer skills in a more meaningful and purposeful way. An ambidextrous person may have their brain subconsciously second guessing everything they do.
Historically, left-handed people were more prone to picking up skills with their non-dominant (right) hand. Studies show that this training has tremendous benefits for left-handers and can even lead to success in other areas of life.
Many twentieth-century British and American educators, psychologists, and psychiatrists advocated forcing left-handed children to write with their right hands. These experts asserted that a child’s decision to rely on his or her left hand was a reflection of a defiant personality that could best be corrected by forcible switching. The methods used to retrain left-handers were often tortuous, including restraining a resistant child’s left hand. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332811
The Catholic Church was an early adopter of this philosophy, as anything involving a “defiant personality” was deemed as needing quick correction. My grandfather was born left-handed but forced to switch to right-handed in the 1930s. By the 1980s, this practice was no longer employed in catholic schools, but there has long been a lingering expectation that left-handedness was problematic.
Personally, I can tell you that I played my first two seasons of little league baseball with a right-hander’s glove, due to lack of availability of quality gloves for lefties. Also being a lifelong soccer player, the training is mostly surrounding lower body and hip movements versus from the wrist out to the fingers. This served over the years as a huge advantage in some ways and minor disadvantage in others, but I was never confused about my dominant, or preferred, hand or foot.
If you have a genetic disposition to be a lefty—odds are that growing up in a right-handed world will make you more likely to think outside-the-box and become a leader. It’s ironic that for centuries teachers and schools would literally tie the left-hand behind a student’s back in an attempt to force pupils to be right-handed. Luckily, science is proving that allowing one’s biological handedness to flourish leads to success and leadership skills. – Psychology Today
Again this cross-handed training does have benefits, and many of the skills that Ben Simmons displays on a nightly basis are a direct result of his seemingly equal comfort in moving and dribbling left or right. When you watch Simmons finish at the rim, however, he almost exclusively finishes right-handed. One could argue that he finishes more often right-handed than a typical right-handed player would in situations on the left side of the rim. This was first publicly called out by Kevin O’Connor.
When it comes to jumpers or free throws, however, Simmons shoots with his left hand. This sort of cross-handedness could be an indication of a couple of things. One could be a confusion between his dominant eye (or Ocular Dominance) and his dominant hand (handedness).
Ocular dominance, sometimes called eye preference or eyedness, is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye to the other. It is somewhat analogous to the laterality of right- or left-handedness; however, the side of the dominant eye and the dominant hand do not always match. This is because both hemispheres control both eyes, but each one takes charge of a different half of the field of vision, and therefore a different half of both retinas (See Optic Tract for more details). There is thus no direct analogy between “handedness” and “eyedness” as lateral phenomena. – per Wikipedia
This is one further layer of complexity when trying to assess an ambidextrous person’s true comfort zone and developmental timeline. When you think of handedness, you think of swing movements and fine motor skills, but ocular dominance is key to aim and accuracy from a visual standpoint. When you have a cross dominance, you have both advantages and disadvantages.
Simmons’ seeming comfort with both hands has advantages and possible disadvantages. Knowing whether he is a lefty who has developed a strong right hand or a truly ambidextrous person is hard to determine, but it could be key to knowing how much and how fast we can expect to see significant development of his jump shot and touch around the rim. These two factors are key to unlocking his potential as a top 5 player in the NBA.
To be clear, it isn’t nearly as important for us, on the outside, to understand this. However, it is absolutely vital that Ben, the team, and his coaches understand this as they continue to work on a skills development program. Satisfaction = reality minus expectations. There may simply be a delay in the time it takes for these motions to feel natural and instinctual in a game setting. If this delay is understood, it can be attacked with a vigor and focus that can help to accelerate the timeline.
This is almost certainly not as simple as “Ben should shoot with his right hand.” That sort of oversimplification could really delay the timeline even further.